When the star is broken

At one of our recent online confirmation classes, the students were to follow instructions given by Pastor Judith to make a Christmas star ornament – using a couple of sheets of white paper, some glue, a ruler, and a pair of scissors.

This is what it was supposed to look like when I was finished:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly8Pa0TwhNU

Well, after an hour of hard work, this is what I came up with: 

Not exactly what I had hoped for. At the time, even as the class was ending, I was tempted to keep at it, like the proverbial dog with a bone until I got it. But at the end, I had to accept and feel it, that it wasn’t going to work out for me, at that time.

In that class, there were about eight students. I guess I could take comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it right. But about four in that zoom room held up a properly made and beautiful star! Some did get it! And I could see and feel their joy at that sense of accomplishment. Even though the end result wasn’t ideal for me, individually, as a class it succeeded.

This might not be the Christmas you had wanted and desired: Family gatherings not happening the way you had always envisioned; Church events and services just not the same; That pall of fear weighing heavily over your soul about COVID-19; The grief over all the deaths; The worry about the ongoing pandemic danger threatening us all. It just might not be working out for you this holiday.

That first Christmas was not what anyone expected. It was quite simple and bare bones, close to earth. Literally. The holy night was indeed silent. No large gatherings and noisy parties. No one decking the halls and filling their bellies. 

And yet, somewhere, someone, experienced profound joy. Initially, just Mary, Joseph, the shepherds. And someone, somewhere, is experiencing the wonder of the season today in 2020. Somewhere, this year, children are having fun. Somewhere, someone is expecting their first child. Newborn babies bringing laughter to joy-filled homes. And yes, there are some whose hearts are filled with peace, gratitude and joy this Christmas.

Being a Christian is not being bound up in ourselves all the time. As Christians we don’t identify exclusively with our isolated selves. There is someone bigger, a greater love, that is part of us, the essential part of us, beyond our self-centred preoccupations. Following Jesus is never just about ‘me’, trapped inside myself. It’s difficult to get this, because we normally are totally identified with our own passing thoughts, feelings, and compulsive patterns of perception.[1]

Rather than finding meaning in my own self, Christianity is about finding meaning in my relationship within the Body of Christ, the whole. How I connect with and identify within the community is where I find purpose for life in Christ. 

Perhaps this Christmas, I need to be happy that some of the kids hit it out of the park with this star. Perhaps this Christmas, especially those of us who are struggling, need to rejoice that Christmas is still being celebrated and felt by others. And for some, there is inexplicable joy. Thanks be to God!

It may just start with one small act of kindness. It may just start with a generous act of love to surprise someone else with the unexpected from you.

And so, I can say: Have a Merry Christmas.


[1] Richard Rohr, “Self-Emptying – Letting Go of Our Very Selves” Daily Meditations (www.cac.org, 16 December 2020)

Christmas Day – our gift is good enough

This Christmas message begins two months ago, on Halloween night. Yes, Halloween, when the goblins, skeletons, super-heroes and pirates were out in full force trick-o’-treating. 

It was a dark night. And pouring rain. But the children were determined to fill their sacks with as much candy as possible. 

Even the parents were in on it. In Arnprior, this made the local news: One Dad had lifted the large, tented car port from its moorings. Then he found three more willing parents to help him carry it like a giant umbrella down the street, protecting the dozens of huddled, costumed children from the relentless rain. 

When there is a will there is a way. Nothing was going to stop these folks on their mission to get the children as many treats as humanly possible. Talk about commitment. Dedication. Sacrifice. Self-reliance. For a cause.

Then, I heard of one grandparent who decided to give out candy at their door the same Halloween night, but here in Ottawa. He was going to get in on the spirit of it all and dress up himself. But, this time, he was going to shock his costumed visitors.

So, imagine with me the scene: Let’s say on Halloween you are going house to house with your pillow bag already brimming full of candy, pop and chips. And as you walk up the lane to the front door of thishouse, you start noticing something a bit off: 

Bright Christmas lights are hung around the front door frame and porch, blinking in blues, reds, greens and yellows. Ok. And when the front door opens, who is standing there, but Santa Claus! And he is ringing a hand bell and calling in a booming voice: “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

The grandparent who did this (sometimes adults will dress up as Santa Claus, you know!) reported to me afterwards about one little princess who stood at the door, dripping wet from the rain, mouth gaping open, eyes popping out. And she stood there for what seemed as an eternity. You could see the wheels in her head turning, wondering what on earth to do.

Finally, she made up her mind. The little girl placed her snack-and-candy-laden sack on ground and with two hands reached deep into the pillow case, pulled out fists full of treats and handed it all over to Santa. “Merry Christmas, Santa,” she said. I think it was Santa who was momentarily caught off guard, wondering what to do.

At Christmas, there’s a lot of pressure to perform with our giving. Today, it’s almost unheard of to limit a gift to $5. Today, if you’re not spending hundreds of dollars, will it impress? Yet, many will give in impressive ways – their time, energy, passion, money, and a gift for everyone on the list. Yes, we can say that it’s indeed better to give than to receive.[1]Yes, we can perhaps even point to times when it felt good to do so. 

But what if we feel there’s no more gas in the tank? What if we feel like we have no more to give. That we can’t keep up. We may decide not to give out any gifts because of this pressure we feel to impress. The emotional and digestive roller coaster, that is often what we experience over the holidays, may leave us spent, exhausted and hating people, hating ourselves. What more, on earth, can I give to anyone, let alone God?

Long ago, followers of Christ began to commemorate the coming of Jesus at the darkest time of the year. It was probably no accident that God came into the world when everything seemed so dark, so hopeless and helpless.

In the Gospel today from John, we read: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”[2]These words of hope are central to the first chapter in John’s Gospel. It is then no accident that we today celebrate Christmas just days after the winter solstice, December 21, which in the northern hemisphere is literally the darkest time of the year. 

In John’s telling there are no angel choruses. In John’s telling there are no shepherds tending flock. In John’s telling there are no wise men travelling from afar. In John’s telling there isn’t even a baby lying in a manger with Joseph and Mary looking on. Those are the stories Matthew and Luke tell. 

In John, the message is about the meaningof God becoming human, the word made flesh. At Christmas, we’re not just talking about getting ready, waiting and getting prepared for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened two thousand years ago! What Christians have been doing every year since is welcoming the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history of every time and place.[3]

Ancient Christians knew very well that this Jesus, his teaching, his message, his life, his spirit, his example, leads us to the way of life itself. The way of life where we take care for one another and the world, loving God and each other as children of God.

In John’s Gospel the way of life in Christ is gift. Pure gift. God is with us – Emanuel. God now lives in us, and is born in us. There’s nothing we can or can’t do that changes God’s intention to come to us in love, over and over again.

When we pray at Jesus’ coming into this world, we are admitting a truth that flies in the face of our heroic attempts at Christmas – attempts to get something more out of it for ourselves or for others, to impress others, to meet and exceed expectations, to perform well. Even when we give for the wrong reasons.

Maybe we do need, again, simply to kneel by the manger side where God is born in a baby – vulnerable, weak and helpless. Maybe we do need, again to kneel by the manger and remember that we did not choose to come into the world on our own. We did not choose our families of origin, our ethnicity, or our sexuality. While we were born with intelligence and with the capacity for learning, we did not arrive fully assembled nor did we come with instructions.

We are children of God, truly. In our honesty. In our vulnerability. In our instinct to turn to God. And that’s good enough for God. For God is with us now. The only instinct we had in the beginning – like baby Jesus did – once our lungs were clear after birth, the only instinct we had was to cry out for help as loudly as we could.[4]And that’s good enough for God. For God is with us now.

God receives us, as we are. At the manger side, there are no expectations, no need to put on a good impression or please anyone. We come as we are. The greatest gift we can bring to God and to life is our presence, our heart, our intention and attention.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him – give my heart.[5]And that prayer is good enough for God. For God is with us now.

Merry Christmas!


[1]Acts 20:35

[2]John 1:5,9

[3]Richard Rohr, “Incarnation – Celebrating an Eternal Advent” Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation(www.cac.org, Tuesday, December 24, 2019).

[4]Br. Jim Woodrum, “Help – Brother, Give Us A Word” (Society of Saint John the Evangelist, December 4, 2019)

[5]“In the Bleak Midwinter” v.3 (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006), Hymn 294